The 2023 NFL Draft looks to be a good one on the defensive side of the ball. In addition to a very strong cornerback class, it boasts a deep and very talented EDGE group that could dominate the first two rounds.
And sitting at the very top of that group of edge defenders is Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr.
Anderson has been widely regarded as the best edge defender in this draft class since last year. He’s racked up an incredible impressive 48.0 tackles for a loss and 27.5 sacks over the last two years, and now looks to terrorize quarterbacks in the NFL.
There’s no chance that the New York Giants will get the opportunity to draft Anderson, but we’ll be seeing plenty of him over the coming years.
Games Played: 41
Tackles for a loss: 58.5
Forced fumbles: 1
Passes defensed: 4
Games Played: 13
Tackles for a loss: 17.0
Forced fumbles: 0
Passes defensed: 1
Best: Football IQ, processing, first step, athleticism, technique
Worst: Occasional over-reliance power rushing
Projection: A starting edge defender with scheme diversity and Pro Bowl upside.
Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. has an excellent combination of size, athleticism, technique, and football IQ to be an edge defender at the NFL level.
Anderson is a versatile defender who’s played from both ends of the defensive front, has rushed from a two and three-point stance, rushes from the interior, and drops into coverage on occasion. He’s able to execute from all alignments, and appears comfortable regardless of what the defensive call is.
Anderson does a very good job of keying the snap from a 2 and 3-point stance and is often the one of the very first players moving at the snap of the ball. He has an explosive first step and wastes little time or energy getting into his rush – as evidenced by his 1.61 10-yard split. Anderson is able to threaten offensive tackles with his speed off the edge and accelerates into the backfield.
He primarily uses a power move as a pass rusher and uses a bull rush as his set-up move. Anderson fires out of his stance with good leverage and plays with good pad level throughout the play. He uses his length well and fits his hands inside the opponent’s framework and does a good job of winning inside leverage. Anderson has very good play strength and is able to overpower tight ends and deliver a good jolt to offensive tackles.
Anderson is a very savvy rusher and knows how to set up blockers over the course of a game. He routinely relies on a diverse set of counter moves, such as a long-arm, club, rip, swim, and forklift moves to beat rushers after using his bull rush. Anderson is a chess player and rushes with a plan to take advantage of blockers’ expectations.
Anderson’s use of a bull-rush as his go-to pass rush move also allows him to be a disciplined defender. He seldom runs himself out of the play and is able to hold blockers and make plays on the quarterback if he quickly scrambles.
He’s a reliable run defender who’s able to disengage from blockers and is quick to get into pursuit. He processes very quickly and does a good job of retracing to defend screens or option plays. Anderson is a reliable tackler who’s willing to fight through multiple blockers and is unafraid of contact when he arrives at the ball carrier.
There are very, very few weaknesses in Anderson’s game, and any criticism feels more like nitpicking than anything else. He could stand to be more diverse in his initial move as a pass rusher. He has a deep toolbox of counter moves, but he might find more success in the NFL if he leads off with a speed move more often.
Overall Grade: 8.9
Alabama edge defender Will Anderson Jr. projects to be a starting EDGE at the NFL level, with the upside to be a Pro Bowl player before the end of his rookie contract.
Anderson is a remarkably well-rounded edge defender who can play the run and the pass, as well as drop into coverage on occasion. He also has the ability to win with power or speed, and comes into the NFL with pro-ready technique and a good understanding of how to use his tools. Impressively, Anderson already knows how to set blockers up and beat them with counter moves. He also has very fast processing speed and is quick to retrace and get into pursuit, or break off his rush and defend screen plays.
Anderson might not be the biggest, strongest, fastest, most explosive, or bendiest pass rusher in this draft. However, no other pass rusher can match how well-rounded Anderson is, nor how many different ways in which he can win.